Lynas says new licensing conditions ‘disappointing’

It mulls legal options to MESTECC’s decision to slap tougher licensing conditions

By NG MIN SHEN / Graphic By TMR

Lynas Corp Ltd said it will consider legal options to the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change’s (MESTECC) decision to slap tougher licencing conditions on the Australian rare earths miner, which operates the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) in Gebeng, Pahang.

MESTECC on Monday said over 450,000 metric tonnes of radioactive water leached purification (WLP) waste from Lynas’ LAMP must be removed from Malaysia if the firm wishes to obtain future operational approvals.

Shares of the company on the Australian Stock Exchange plunged 22.41% to A$1.65 (RM5) yesterday following the announcement.

The Malaysian government voiced its concerns over the increasing amount of accumulated residue at the open landfill temporary site — where the waste is exposed to natural disasters such as major floods — and increased risks to the surrounding communities and environment.

The ministry called on Lynas to submit an action plan on the disposal of its accumulated non-radioactive neutralisation underflow (NUF) scheduled waste.

“Lynas’ license conditions explicitly state that residues should be recycled, and if that fails, they should be stored in a permanent disposal facility (PDF). Export should only be considered if a PDF is not possible,” Lynas noted in a statement yesterday.

It said MESTECC’s intention to impose new conditions was “disappointing” as it contradicts the ministry’s Oct 30 statement that the Cabinet would review the executive review committee’s report on the operations of LAMP before any decision was announced.

“This process does not appear to have been followed,” the firm said.

According to MESTECC, there are 451,564 metric tonnes of WLP waste and 1.113 million metric tonnes of NUF waste accumulated at LAMP since operations commenced in 2012. The waste is currently stored at the LAMP temporary residue storage facility.

Lynas’ temporary storage licence for radioactive WLP residue in Malaysia expires on Sept 2, 2019, while approval for storage of non-radioactive NUF waste is valid until Feb 15, 2019.

“We will consider all options available to us to achieve an appropriate outcome prior to Sept 2, 2019, including legal options,” the group said.

Lynas added that the ministry’s pre-condition that the WLP residue must be exported before Sept 2 next year is “inconsistent with the review committee’s recommendation” that Lynas Malaysia Sdn Bhd should determine the location of and build a PDF for the WLP residue, including identifying sites for PDF construction, before the renewal of the license.

“The review committee noted that Lynas should be prepared to export WLP residues from Malaysia only if the PDF location is not identified or approved. Lynas’ PDF planning framework and site selection plan have already been approved by the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB), and the Pahang state government has given an undertaking to the PDF site in Pahang, should it be required,” the group stated.

The rare earths miner added that it has complied with all AELB license conditions, and its license conditions “explicitly state that residues should be recycled, and if that fails, then they should be stored in a PDF”, whereas export of waste “should only be considered if a PDF is not possible”.

On the ministry’s second pre-condition that calls on Lynas to submit its disposal plan for non-radioactive waste, Lynas stated it has submitted an action plan and will seek to accelerate its work with the Department of Environment in executing the plan.

The miner said it is “pleased” that the committee’s report has found Lynas Malaysia’s operations to be of low risk and complys with applicable laws.

“We welcome the opportunity to continue to improve our business based on the review committee’s recommendations,” it said.

Yet, it said it is surprised with the ministry’s decision to impose a pre-condition that does not follow the process outlined in October, and which is inconsistent with science and the expert review committee’s recommendations, besides being contrary to international best practice.